Oh M.I.A., what were you thinking?
For those of you who haven't been following the latest drama in the life of Maya Arulpragasam, the talented musician had a meltdown last week after reading Lynn Hirschberg's vicious New York Times profile on her, and took the unfortunate action of posting the writer's phone number on twitter. It was pretty much the online equivalent of leaving a flaming bag of dogshit on her doorstep.
C'mon, are you a 16 year old throwing a tantrum? Did you really think this was a good way to counter the portrayal of you as a spoiled and naïve attention whore? Had you shown a bit of restraint, you could have kept the media on your side, and you might have had a much better shot at telling your side of the story, but instead, you're the laughing stock of the internet.
Now, having said all that, M.I.A. has good reason to be upset at the piece.
You don't have to read much between the lines to see that Hirschberg went into the project with the intention of writing a character assassination, and that her likely motivation is political, and in the worst way possible. Hell, Hirschberg almost admits as much in her response to M.I.A. posting her phone number.
"I find it kind of interesting that she would cast the spotlight on the story in any way, shape or form. I can't say what she thinks of it. But it seems you would want it to go away."
After posting Hirschberg's number, M.I.A.'s next tweet stated that she'd be uploading audio from the interview to clear her name, and over the weekend, that's exactly what she did. No, it's not the whole interview, but the two fragments posted so far give you an idea of Hirschberg's questionable methods and intentions.
Much has already been made of how Hirschberg inserted a mention of M.I.A. munching on truffle fries while talking about politics, presumably to illustrate a supposed disconnect from talking about the third world while living a very first world life.
Many people noted that Hirschberg also managed to slip in a mention of truffle fries into her previous story on Megan Fox, which led to the scandal being dubbed "truffle-gate" and/or "truffle kerfuffle".
Fortunately for M.I.A., she had her own recorder going during that first meeting, and as you can hear on her blog, Hirschberg was the one pushing (practically forcing) the infamous truffle fries on the artist, telling her "get whatever you like, because the New York Times is paying", and then ordering them for the table.
It also sounds from the conversation like the fancy restaurant in question is a favourite of the writer, and not one that the musician had ever been to before. Sneaky, very sneaky.
M.I.A. has also posted the audio from another small section, highlighting significant differences between how Hirschberg transcribed and edited the quote in order to change the meaning.
Here's what ran in the New York Times:
"I wasn't trying to be like Bono," Maya told me. "He's not from Africa - I'm from there. I'm tired of pop stars who say, ‘Give peace a chance.' I'd rather say, ‘Give war a chance.' The whole point of going to the Grammys was to say, ‘Hey, 50,000 people are gonna die next month, and here's your opportunity to help.' And no one did."
And here's what M.I.A. actually said:
"It wasn't just about me, and me getting to the Oscars or me going to the Grammys - that doesn't mean anything. The whole point of that journey was so you can go ‘hey - 50 000 people are going to die next month, here's your opportunity to help,' and no one did, and they still died. It wasn't about accolades or fame."
Immediately after that, you hear Hirschberg insisting that she "understands", but from the tone of the article, it's clear that she doesn't.
Yes, it's common for writers to edit quotes in order to have them make sense on paper, but to use that to change the subject's meaning is quite a different thing.
Even in the first paragraph of the article, Hirschberg tries to portray M.I.A.'s maternity wear for her legendary 2009 Grammy Award performance as self-consciously sexy, later describing her as "nearly naked". Um, did we watch the same performance? If you find her cute polka dot outfit shocking, we've got to wonder where you've been for the past 40 years.
In that same paragraph, Hirschberg writes:
Maya taps into her rage at the persecution of Tamils in Sri Lanka to espouse violence: while you're under the sway of the beat, she's rapping, "You wanna win a war?/Like P.L.O. I don't surrender."
First of all, "espouse violence"?
Within the context of the song, there's no way to interpret the lyrics this way, unless you're coming into it with a certain agenda. If this were a hip-hop lyric saying "my beats pound harder than Mike Tyson's fists", would she also interpret this as a command to the audience to punch each other in the face? Plus, even Israel and the U.S.A. took the P.L.O. off their terrorism list back in 1991, which says a lot about where Hirschberg is coming from.
Later Hirschberg claims:
"Maya, committed to the cause, allied herself with the [Tamil Tigers] despite its consistent use of terror tactics, which included systematic massacres of Sinhalese villagers."
Notice she doesn't back up this claim with any quotes? That's because as far as we can tell, M.I.A. has never actually allied herself with the Tamil Tigers. In fact, Hirschberg's entire thesis that M.I.A. irresponsibly supports terrorists to make money, and oversimplifies the conflict in the process appears to come from this little bit of fuzzy logic:
"By the time her first album came out, the Tamil cause was mostly synonymous with the cause of the Tamil Tigers."
So basically, because Hirschberg sees no difference between supporting the Tamil ethnic group and supporting the Tigers, there is no difference? And that means that it's M.I.A. who's oversimplifying the issue?
This is not at all how we recall our conversation with her a few years ago. At the time she didn't even seem to think much about her father's involvement with the much less violent and controversial Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students.
To attempt to portray M.I.A.'s beliefs as being blindly supportive of the Tamil Tigers means that either Hirschberg didn't do much research, or that she's one of those Americans who need to define every war as good vs evil, civilisation against the terrorists. As much as Hirschberg complains about the lack of nuance in M.I.A.'s politics, she appears to be at least as guilty, if not much more.
As many commenters have pointed out, the most damaging quotes in the article come from Diplo, who worked heavily on M.I.A.'s first album Arular, but has contributed much less to her albums since their well-publicised break-up.
When they broke up, M.I.A. posted on her blog something to the effect of how much it sucks for your boyfriend to leave you to make songs for Brazilian strippers (someone needs to start keeping her away from the internet when she's mad), and in the Hirschberg piece it's revealed that he's not even allowed in her house anymore, even though they are still making some music together.
Within this context, it's not surprising that he's happy to provide some bitterness to fuel the fire, but Hirschberg tries to milk it too hard.
She keeps trying to insinuate that M.I.A. has been dishonest about her father in order to build her image. She latches on to an apparent discrepancy between M.I.A. saying that she hasn't seen her father in years, and Diplo claiming to have met him in London. Well, considering Diplo most likely met him while he was dating M.I.A., and that the relationship ended years ago, we're not exactly sure what Hirschberg thinks she's uncovered.
What's most amazing about the article is how little Hirschberg has to say about the actual music on the new album. Considering that this is the first glimpse of the highly anticipated release, you'd think she'd at least manage to set aside her distaste for her subject and talk a bit more about it, but instead she brushes over it.
She manages to quote Rusko, but gives the impression that he's some faceless UK producer living on M.I.A.'s couch, without ever mentioning that he's one of the biggest names in dubstep, and that his influence should have a major effect on the sounds and rhythms of the new disc.
Thankfully, while Hirschberg may not have much to say about M.I.A.'s musical path, the incident has also provoked her to post a song on her blog responding to the controversy, which is
either called based on a song called Hater, which M.I.A. remade into I'm A Singer. The synthetic and distorted dubbed-out reggae beat is exactly what we were hoping Rusko would provide for the album, and the chorus, sung by XL label mates Various Productions, is a much more reasonable response than posting someone's phone number on the Internet.
"I'm a singer. Never said anything else. I didn't lie to you. Thinking of someone else."
Please M.I.A., next time channel your anger into songs like this, not ill advised flame wars.